Posts tagged Thomas Jefferson
It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the earliest descriptions of Orthodox worship in Alaska comes not from the pen of a Russian missionary or fur trader, but from that of a young Anglo-American explorer who visited the “Great Land” in 1778, sixteen years before the first missionaries arrived in Kodiak. His name was John Ledyard, born in the small town of Groton, Connecticut, in 1751.
Having dropped out of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, he embarked upon a life of travel. After a brief visit to the British colony of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, he made his way to England and joined the British navy. One month before his fellow countrymen were to declare their independence from Great Britain, Ledyard set sail from London in June 1776 in the service of Captain Cook, bound for the Pacific as a member of the Royal marines.
By the summer of 1778 the expedition had reached southwest Alaska and in October of that year they came to Unalaska in the Aleutian islands of southeast Alaska. At the recommendation of John Gore, the first lieutenant of his ship The Resolution, Ledyard went on shore and traveled for several days. Ledyard describes Gore as his intimate friend and a native of America as well as myself. Gore was most likely a Virginian.
During the second evening on shore Ledyard met Russians for the first time, in the company of the native Aleutians. After enjoying a feast of whale meat, salmon and halibut he went to rest for the night. He writes:
After I had lain down, the Russians assembled the Indians in a very silent manner, and said prayers after the manner of the Greek Church, which is much like the Roman.
I could not but observe with what particular satisfaction the Indians performed their devoirs to God, through the medium of their little crucifixes, and with what pleasure they went through the multitude of ceremonies attendant on that sort of worship. I think it is a religion the best calculated in the world to gain proselytes, when the people are either unwilling or unable to speculate, or when they cannot be made acquainted with the history and principles of Christianity without a former education.
This was not to be Ledyard’s only encounter with Orthodox Christianity. After escaping the service of the British in Long Island in 1782 he remained on the east coast of the newly independent United States for barely two years, before heading to Paris in 1784. There, in June 1786 he met Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister to the French court. Jefferson later recounted:
Ledyard had come to Paris in the hope of forming a company to engage in the fur trade of the Western coast of America. He was disappointed in this, and being out of business and of a roaming, restless character, I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent, by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamchatka, and procuring a passage there in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to America; and I undertook to have the permission of the Empress of Russia solicited.
Had Ledyard succeeded in making the journey Jefferson outlined his place in history would probably rival, if not exceed that of Lewis and Clark who were to follow a similar mandate from Jefferson some twenty years later. Ledyard set out on his monumental journey and made it as far a Yakutsk in eastern Siberia, a journey of some 7500 miles overland and within several hundred miles of the Russian Pacific coast. There he was arrested as a spy and forced to return via St. Petersburg to London!
Whilst on this trip Ledyard had several meetings with Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk, Siberia. At this point Shelikhov had returned to Siberia after founding the Russian settlement of Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in 1784. It was the Shelikhov-Golikov company that would later sponsor sending the future St Herman and other Russian Orthodox missionaries to Kodiak in 1794. (Although it should be noted that Shelikhov asked for only one priest to be sent to the fledgling settlement at Three Saints Bay.) Ledyard’s interest in the Pacific north-west fur trade was most probably what led to his expulsion from Russia. Catherine the Great was eager to integrate Russian America into her empire in the face of emerging competition from the Americans, British and Spanish. It is in this context the Orthodox mission six years later arises. Ledyard also records meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop in Irkutsk and visiting the village of St. Nicholas, with its church of that dedication on the shores of nearby Lake Baikal.
After his return to London the ever-restless Ledyard set out to visit Egypt, traveling there via Paris, where he met again with Jefferson and also Lafayette. He subsequently wrote to Jefferson from Cairo:
The city of Cairo is about half as large in size as Paris, and is said to contain several hundred thousand inhabitants. You will therefore anticipate the fact of its narrow streets and high houses. In this number are contained one hundred thousand Copts, or descendents of the ancient Egyptians. These are likewise Christians, and those of different sects, from Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo and other parts of Syria.
After extensive travels throughout Egypt Ledyard wrote the last letter of his life (still extant) to Jefferson on November 15, 1788. Shortly after this he died of a fever in his thirty-eighth year and was buried in Cairo. The account of his travels with Captain Cook was published in Connecticut in 1783. This is the first work ever published in America to be subject to copyright law.
As a publisher myself, who was born in the British crown colony of Gibraltar and spent a portion of childhood in Ledyard’s home town of Groton, Connecticut, it is hard not to identify with him. Even more so after having made three trips to Alaska, visited the grave of Gregory Shelikhov in Irkutsk and celebrated the feast of Pentecost 1988 in the church of St. Nicholas, on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, New York, April 9, 2012
On the latest episode of our American Orthodox History podcast, Nicholas Chapman recounts the almost incredible story of Orthodox Christianity in colonial Virginia. Last month, we published Nicholas’ first article on the subject. Below, he continues his series.
On July 4, 1789, after nearly five years of service, Thomas Jefferson was coming to the end of his time as US minister plenipotentiary to France. It was the eve of what would come to be known as the French revolution, but this did not prevent Jefferson from hosting a celebration to mark the recently won independence of the United States. The party was attended by many of Jefferson’s closest friends in Paris, including John Paradise, the son in law of Philip Ludwell III.
John Paradise was by any account a remarkable man: an extraordinarily gifted linguist with a talent for friendship which brought him into contact with almost all the great men of his day. English was probably only his seventh language and by all accounts he never spoke it well! He was, however, able to converse freely in Greek, Italian, Turkish and Arabic amongst others and almost certainly knew Russian. He used his gifts to teach Thomas Jefferson classical Greek whilst visiting him in Paris.
John Paradise was also an Orthodox Christian. His father, Peter Paradise, had been the British Consul in Salonika (Thessalonica) and his mother was half Greek. It is possible that his paternal grandfather was also both English and Orthodox, making John Paradise a third generation English Orthodox at the time of his birth at Salonika in April 1743. His father, Peter, had contacts with monks from Mt. Athos during his years in Salonika and it is not known whether it was these, or his marriage, that had brought him to the Church.
After his early years in Greece, John was sent to the University of Padua (modern day Italy) and ultimately to Oxford to complete his education. At some point in the 1760’s it seems that the Paradises met Philip Ludwell and his three daughters in London. On April 20, 1766 they are all recorded as partaking of the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Russian Orthodox Church in London. When Philip Ludwell III died less than a year later, Peter Paradise became one of the legal guardians of Ludwell’s three daughters. When Frances died less than a year after her father and Hannah (the eldest daughter) married in March 1769, Lucy Ludwell went to live at Peter Paradise’s London home. Barely two months later Lucy married Peter’s son John.
Philip Ludwell III’s London house was also a home for an extended Virginian family including three of his sister Hannah’s children: Alice, Arthur and William Lee. It was William who was to marry the eldest Ludwell daughter in March 1769. She was also his first cousin. Close to the Ludwell house in Cecil St. was the London home of Benjamin Franklin, who at that time was on his second extended visit to England. Franklin was one of the early members of the Royal Society, to which John Paradise would subsequently be elected. Philip Ludwell III was very proud of the inventive achievements of his fellow countryman and in 1762 commissioned a portrait of Franklin. This became Franklin’s preferred painting of himself.
Franklin was an intimate of the Ludwell household and on his return to America he sent his “best wishes to Miss Ludwell and the other ladies.” This familial contact with Franklin was to prove vital for John Paradise and Lucy Ludwell Paradise. The division of the Virginian estates of Philip Ludwell III after his death was to prove complex and made even more so by the outbreak of war between the American colonies and the British Empire. By that time Franklin was the first US minister plenipotentiary to France. In this capacity John and Lucy Ludwell Paradise visited him in Paris in 1779. Through his office John Paradise was to be granted US citizenship in October 1780, whilst the War of Independence was still raging. It can be said therefore that one of the first (and perhaps the first) naturalized American citizen was an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church of mixed English and Greek ethnicity!
It was not until September of 1787 that John and Lucy Ludwell Paradise were finally able to travel to their estates in Virginia. During their time in America they were able to spend four days at Mt. Vernon with General George and Martha Washington. Washington’s diary for Sunday, December 30, 1787 records that at around eleven o’clock that day “Mr. Paradise and his Lady, lately from England but now of Williamsburgh , came in on a visit.” Sadly, we have no detail of the conversation that was exchanged during their stay, although it is known that Washington suspended the normal conduct of his affairs during their visit, which was not his normal practice. As John Paradise was on intimate terms with the two most important representatives of the United States overseas (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) and personally acquainted with so many other persons of note, it is not difficult to think that Washington would have found his visit of immense interest.
Barely two months after their visit to Mt. Vernon, the Paradises were to receive the shocking news of the death of their daughter Philippa, aged only thirteen, in London. So it was, that shortly afterward, they were to return to London. Here it was that they met the newly appointed Russian priest, the Rev. Yakov Smirnov, who was to become Lucy’s cherished spiritual father. John Paradise was to work very closely with Fr. Smirnov is 1791 in a concerted public campaign to persuade British public opinion against war with Russia. For his service in this respect Paradise was awarded a pension of £150 p.a. by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, a substantial sum for its time.
It also seems likely that Paradise recruited the assistance of Frederick North, the future Earl Guildford, whose father Lord North was British Prime Minister during the American War of Independence. The young North was secretly baptized as an Orthodox Christian in Corfu in 1791 and at the same time was composing and publishing sonnets in praise of Catherine the Great! When John Paradise died in 1795 he left Frederick North some of his most precious possessions, thereby indicating the closeness of the relationship they must have enjoyed during his lifetime.
I have only briefly skimmed the facts of John Paradise’s life and adventures here. There is more to be written. But it must be of considerable interest that a man who was clearly an active Orthodox Christians was on intimate terms with the first three Presidents of the United States. James Boswell in his famous “Life of Johnson” penned the best obituary of him. He wrote: “John Paradise (1743 1795). Son of the British Consul at Salonica and a native woman of that country. He was distinguished by his learning and a very general acquaintance with accomplished persons of almost all nations” (Boswell’s Life of Johnson, vol. IV, p. 364, note 2).
Nicholas Chapman, Yonkers, NY, December 14, 2009
A note from Matthew Namee: What follows is a first glimpse of what is, I am confident, the most exciting research currently being done on the subject of American Orthodox history. As I’ve been telling others, my own research is pretty interesting stuff, but Nicholas Chapman’s work blows mine out of the water. Nicholas is a native of England, but he now lives in New York, where he works for the presses of both St. Vladimir’s and Holy Trinity (Jordanville) seminaries. I hope to interview Nicholas for my American Orthodox History podcast in the near future, and his article below is only the first of many.
It will come as a surprise to many, if not all Orthodox Christians in America, to learn that the story of their Church here begins not in 1794 but in 1738. Not in Russian Alaska, but rather British Virginia. Furthermore, what began in 1738 was not a mere blip on the radar, a passing moment of no historical import. Otherwise, how could it be that the daughter of a man described as “renowned in early Virginia history “(Annette Gordon-Reed: The Hemingses of Monticello) would write to President Thomas Jefferson early in his second term of office (Aug 27, 1805) “With the blessing of God I am now in good health, and with my priest’s blessing and command who is the Rev. Mr. Smirnov.”
Where does this story begin and who are its principal characters? Where are there descendants today and what became of their heritage of Orthodox faith and life that lasted for at least sixty/seventy years? My early research is only beginning to answer some of these questions, whilst posing many more.
Let’s begin with Colonel Philip Ludwell III, a third generation Virginian. He was the man who in 1753 gave George Washington his commission in the army and they exchanged frequent correspondence. Ludwell was a cousin of Washington’s wife, Martha. He was also a relative of Confederate General Robert E Lee and Presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, amongst many other distinguished figures of American history. His grandfather, Philip Ludwell I was the first British Governor of the Carolinas and his father, Philip Ludwell II a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and Rector of the College of William and Mary. (The second oldest college in the USA and its first University.) Ludwell’s English manservant, John Wayles, was the father in law of Thomas Jefferson and the father of Jefferson’s African American mistress, Sally Hemings!
When, where and why did Colonel Philip Ludwell become Orthodox? He was received in the Russian Orthodox Church in London, on December 31, 1738 (Old style) by Fr. Bartholomew Cassano, a half French, Alexandrian Greek whose wife Elizabeth (nee Burton) is one of the first recorded English converts to Orthodoxy. Ludwell would have been twenty-two years old at the time. His reception was authorised at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia, who blessed him to take the Holy Gifts back to Virginia and which approved of his translation into English of the “Orthodox Confession” written by Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev, one hundred years earlier. They also granted him a dispensation to continue attending the Anglican church in Virginia, taking into account his position as “an important Royal official” and recognising that “apart from the Province of Pennsylvania, all religions but Protestantism are banned.”
His extensive business interests seem to have led him to travel frequently between Virginia and London. The London parish register documents his participation in the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion on twelve occasions between August 5 1760 and his death on March 14, 1767. (This is very frequent by the standards of the time when once a year communion was the norm.) On April 3, 1762 (Holy Wednesday) he brought his three daughters to be chrismated and somewhat unusually also stood as their sponsor.
His health began to fail him during 1766 and the register records that on Sunday, September 17, 1766, “The sick Philip Ludwell received Holy Communion in his house during the day.” On February 22, 1767 it states “the sick Mr. Philip Ludwell confessed and received Holy Communion, and was anointed with oil at his home.” Shortly thereafter on March 14, 1767 “Philip Ludwell died at five o’clock in the afternoon” and that the following day the “Canon after the departure of the soul from the body” was read at the church. On March 19, 1767 (the fourth day of Great Lent) his funeral took place. On March 22,1767 he was buried in the crypt of the church of St. Mary Bow. (A small Anglican Church to the east of the City of London, which at that time was a distinct village apart from the city.)
Another hint of the intensity of Ludwell’s commitment to the Church is found in Edward L Bond’s 2004 work Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia. Writing in the context of what Bond describes as “Private devotional exercise common among some of Virginia’s elite gentleman” he states that “Philip Ludwell III transcribed from the Greek his own translation of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom “The Divine and Holy Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as it is performed without a Deacon.” ” Did Ludwell’s so called “private devotion” set him on a path to Orthodoxy? Perhaps it is so.
For now, I have only one clear statement, which is found in a letter written in 1791 by the Russian Ambassador in London, Count Vorontsov to his brother Alexander in St. Petersburg. The relevant passage is actually focusing on John Paradise (of whom there is much more to say.) Vorontsov writes “By a strange coincidence an Englishman, a friend of his (i.e. Paradise’s) father’s, who had some property in Virginia, took it into his head to read in the original all the Fathers of the Church and become convinced that our religion was the only true one; he forsook his own to study it and brought up his only daughter who afterwards married my friend Mr. Paradise.”
As mentioned previously, Ludwell in fact had three daughters, but only one was alive in 1791 and known to Count Vorontsov. All three daughters had been baptized as Orthodox Christians and at least one (Lucy who wrote to Jefferson in 1805) was married in the Church. In my next articles I will turn to their stories and those of the men they married.
Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, NY, Nov 11, 2009